Kenneth Shepard’s Top 10 Games Of 2023

Damn, what a year 2023 was, huh?

When I started writing about video games in 2013, I was filled with a lot of hope. Playing The Last of Us had completely shifted my professional trajectory, and I wanted to believe that the rest of the world held games in as high regard as I did. I wanted to share my enthusiasm and desire for a better industry with others. But lately, it doesn’t feel like anyone values anything. Thousands of developers have been laid off in 2023 alone, the Kotaku staff who was here when I started only a year ago has shrunk by more than half a dozen, both due to layoffs and dissatisfaction, and yet, I see millions of people show up to read Kotaku anyway. So clearly, someone out there still cares, right?

Even with the readers tuning into what we do here, shit still feels bleak sometimes. And when despair overtakes me, it’s hard for me to be optimistic or enthusiastic about anything. We want to play, read about, discuss, and elevate games, but somehow, every facet of how we interact with these miracles of programming is crumbling around us. There’s a distinct gap between the things we want and the things we get in this life, and if I knew that before, I really can’t stop thinking about it in 2023.

So what am I supposed to do with a Game of the Year list? I’m not about to parrot some notion of how “great” a year it was for video games when it was so obviously not that. Calling it such would be an insult to the devastation everyone is experiencing right now. I guess it’s worth celebrating whatever joys we can find as the building is on fire. Sure. I‘ll do that. I played a lot of games in 2023 that did more than hold my attention; they defined how I coped with a year that felt like it did nothing but take pieces from me. Several of them were reminders of my own personhood when everything around me threatened to depersonalize all my hopes, dreams, and beliefs.

I don’t know. Enough pontificating about it. I loved a lot of the games I got to play in 2023. Here are the ones that showed up at the top of a bias sorter when I fed them into it.

Kratos and Tyr shake hands in Valhalla.

Screenshot: Santa Monica Studio / Kotaku

Honorable mention: God of War Ragnarök: Valhalla

As I said during last year’s Game of the Year posts, I didn’t love God of War Ragnarök. It definitely had its moments, but was so overcome by bloat and breakneck pacing that it is mostly a blur to me at this point. The new Valhalla DLC, however, is such a great distillation of everything that is good about the game that it reinvigorated my love for Santa Monica Studio’s reboot series. By focusing on Kratos over an overwhelmingly large cast, exploring his inner turmoil about what it means to be a god after every awful thing he’s done, and framing his introspection as a rewarding and challenging roguelite, Valhalla cuts out all the glut that kept Ragnarök’s best moments from shining through. I’d give it a spot on my list if I wasn’t already committed at this point. But if you haven’t played Valhalla yet, boot the game up again and start it now. It’s free.

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